Freedom of Russia Legion’s video screen grab
On the morning of May 22, an armed convoy of infantry fighting vehicles and tanks crossed the Russian border via the Grayvoron checkpoint in the Belgorod region bordering Ukraine. The Freedom of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps, both Russian factions within the Ukrainian military, have claimed responsibility for the audacious assault. Vyacheslav Gladkov, the Belgorod region governor, reports that eight civilians were injured during the skirmishes. Here’s what we know about the raid and its aftermath.
Just before 10:00 AM, an urgent video message emerged on the Telegram channel of the Freedom of Russia Legion, a volunteer faction in which Russian citizens are fighting alongside the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The speaker delivered a scathing critique of Putin and encouraged his fellow Russians to exhibit bravery. “Fear not, for we are returning home! Russia will be free!” he assured viewers. Within an hour, the same channel was urging border region residents to stay indoors and avoid resisting the invading force.
In a simultaneous update, the Russian Volunteer Corps’ Telegram channel posted footage of their fighters standing at the entrance sign to Bezlyudovka, a village located within the Shebekinsky district of the Belgorod region. An off-camera narrator asserted that their fighters had successfully breached the Russian border.
Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of the Belgorod Region, confirmed that the Grayvoron district had endured a barrage of artillery fire from the Ukrainian forces since 9:00 AM. He identified several affected locales including the village of Koinka, where a shell struck a residential building, the village of Gora-Podol, where a hay warehouse ignited, and the town of Grayvoron, where artillery shells landed within the confines of a transport company.
As the conflict unfolded, Ukrainian Telegram channels circulated videos documenting the bombardment of the Grayvoron vehicle checkpoint. Governor Gladkov condemned these broadcasts as part of a “concerted information assault aimed at inciting panic among Belgorod’s population.” He assured that there were neither casualties nor any reason to initiate evacuation procedures.
Around the same time, Ukrainian outlets released drone footage showing a tank traversing the checkpoint. The arrangement of the checkpoint buildings in this footage corresponded with satellite imagery. Reports emerged of an intense skirmish between a Ukrainian reconnaissance group and local forces near the Belgorod region’s village of Dronovka, involving heavy military equipment from both sides.
By 2:00 PM, the Freedom of Russia legion was announcing the “liberation” of the village of Kozinka, before advancing towards the town of Grayvoron. Governor Gladkov corroborated these developments, confirming the presence of infiltrators in the Grayvoron district. He added that border guards, the National Guard (Rosgvardiya), and Federal Security Service (FSB) personnel were actively engaged in countering the attack. Local social media outlets clarified that the infiltrators had come to the community center in the village of Glotovo, suggesting that they had covered nearly three and a half miles in a few hours. In videos sourced from Grayvoron, residents discerned from the distinct sounds of gunfire that infantry fighting vehicles had likely entered their village.
According to Rybar, a Russian pro-war Telegram channel, a total of two tanks, one armored personnel carrier, and nine armored vehicles had penetrated Russian territory from the Grayvoron checkpoint. The Grey Zone channel, linked with the Wagner mercenaries, alleged that the infiltrating infantry was moving in a KrAZ truck and American-made armored vehicles, specifically Humvees and Cougars.
By 5:00 PM, the Shot channel reported that an estimated 80 Ukrainian saboteurs, equipped with two tanks and two APCs, had once again gathered near the village of Kozinka, and Russian security personnel were engaged in pushing them out. It appeared likely that the intrusion team was beginning to withdraw back to Ukrainian territory around this time.
Baza news outlet revealed that concurrent battles were unfolding in Glotovo, where gunfire was erupting within a residential sector. The residents, caught in the crossfire, were forced to seek shelter in the basements of their homes.
In the aftermath of the attack, a source from the VChK-OGPU Telegram channel stated that a total of 16 individuals had been injured, evenly split between military personnel and civilians. Governor Gladkov officially confirmed that two individuals were wounded following the shelling in the village of Glotovo, with an additional three in Grayvoron. During a subsequent live broadcast, he clarified that the overall count of wounded individuals was eight. Baza, a media outlet, claimed that the injuries included the deputy head of Grayvoron’s administration and two emergency services personnel. Within the village, shells inflicted damage to three private residences, which subsequently caught fire, and also struck the local administrative building. Citing an unnamed source, Baza further reported that a minimum of 39 attackers were killed, with another five taken into custody.
By 4 PM, regional authorities had implemented the “Edelweiss” plan, designed to mobilize all police departments to combat potential terrorism. The regional department of the Ministry of Emergency Situations conveyed that no official evacuations had been announced. However, local social media platforms showed videos of a convoy of evacuation buses moving toward Grayvoron. By 6 PM, governor Gladkov declared a counter-terrorism operation in progress throughout the Belgorod region, which includes measures such as controlling communications, restricting access to certain areas, commandeering vehicles, and other restrictive actions. He later revealed that a majority of the inhabitants from the border villages had vacated their homes, though he did not specify whether this was an organized evacuation.
Dmitry Peskov, the spokesperson for the Russian president, commented on the incursion into the Belgorod region around 3:30 PM. He stated that President Vladimir Putin had been informed by the Defence Ministry, the FSB, and its border service. Peskov suggested that the aim of this diversionary action was to distract attention from the battles raging in Bakhmut and to “minimize the political impact” of a potential loss of the city by Ukraine. Rybar channel suggested another objective was to spread panic among the local populace. To this end, Ukrainians reportedly hacked into local radio stations and began broadcasting urgent calls for residents to evacuate. According to Baza’s sources, the primary objective was to “take photos within Russian territory.”
A source for RT suggested that the penetration into the Belgorod region was a “trap,” and that the Russian military had deliberately “allowed them to advance as far as the Grayvoron district to eliminate them there.” This version triggered outrage in pro-war Telegram channels, leading Rybar to ridicule the attempt to present the embarrassment as a self-serving “cunning plan.”
On the Ukrainian side, the incursion was commented on by HUR (Directorate fo Military Intelligence) representative Andriy Yusov and presidential office advisor Mykhailo Podolyak. Yusov mentioned that in the Belgorod region, the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Freedom of Russia Legion were engaged in an operation to establish a “security buffer” for the protection of peaceful Ukrainian citizens suffering from “terrorist attacks and shelling by terrorist groups.” He emphasized that the operation involved only Russian citizens.
Podolyak, too, claimed that Ukraine had no connection to the attack. He stated, “An armed guerrilla movement inevitably becomes the only dynamic political force in a totalitarian nation with tightened controls. Ukraine is observing the events in Russia’s Belgorod region with interest and is analyzing the situation, but is not directly involved.” He pointedly noted, mirroring Putin’s remarks on Crimea annexation in 2014, that tanks are available for purchase in any Russian military surplus shop and that underground guerrilla units are ultimately composed of Russian citizens.
Editor: Dmitry Treschanin
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